Transylvania from Sibiu to Brasov

Brasov view from the fortress

I wanted to start this post off with an explanation of what “moving slowly” really implies on this trip.  Last year we moved slower than we ever have before, and this year is slower yet.  As I have mentioned before, currently we are staying in one spot for a week or more and then moving two hours down the road and staying another week or more.  Although this isn’t like living in an area for a year and getting completely immersed, it is the next best thing.  One side benefit of moving slowly is that it allows us to be very relaxed and not have to rush to fit in our sightseeing.  A bigger benefit is that it gives us the time to meet the local people and get to know them better.  At our last campground the owner took us to visit his mother and see the traditional home that he grew up in.  Last night, Mike and I went out with Constantin and Otilia, the Romanian couple who own the Alpin Ranch where we are now camping.  They toured us around, showed us a few very nice inns, treated us to a lovely dinner and great desserts at a local hotel.  In addition to having a good time, spending time with all these people gives us a chance to ask questions and learn about the local society.  Unlike Mike, Constantin doesn’t appear to mind heights at all.  He climbs mountains and paints structures like the CN tower!

Otilia and Constantin take us out for the evening

We see more taxis both in the cities and in rural Romania than we do at home.  We also see quite a few horses pulling buggies/carts/wagons etc.  Our assumption is that both of these, seemingly unrelated facts, imply that there are fewer cars per person than we have at home.  Of course, that wouldn’t be difficult.  One very surprising difference between Canada/US and Romania is house sizes.  The average house size, at least in Transylvania, looks to be larger than the average house at home which we didn’t expect.  The picture above is the road into our campground and shows a couple of typical, large homes.  A campground in Romania is usually just a good-sized backyard where the owner has installed electricity and water.  Mike and I are currently staying near Brasov in a little mountain town called Zărnești.  Many of the homes in this area look very much like homes in the Swiss Alps or Bavaria.  They often have paintings on the outside walls, maybe not as many as you see in Bavaria but enough to look very nice.  It is really amazing how many small inns or pensiunes there are.  It seems that almost all the small villages have multiple places for people to stay.  Who knew that this many people visited Transylvania.

In my last post I told you that Mike and I drove up the 2nd highest highway in Romania.  It was closed at the highest pass but there was a cable car that we took to get to the top.  The views were great.  Mike wanted to drive the highest highway as far up as he could.  It was also closed at the top.  It was further away and would take at least 5 hours to drive to the highest open point and then circle back to the campsite.  I had no interest in being in a car for 5 or 6 hours and told Mike to go on his own, I would have a quiet day at the campsite.  It is extremely rare that we actually have much time apart.  Mike was actually gone for almost 8 hours.  He said that the views were gorgeous and he stopped at a lovely inn for lunch.  His GPS told him that at the highest point he was 1700 meters (1 mile) above sea level.  I believed him, but I was glad that I had stayed behind.  During my quiet afternoon I decided to go out for a bike ride on my own.  There was one direction that we hadn’t ridden yet.  It was one road so how lost could I get?  I started out driving through an area at the edge of our village where we hadn’t been before.  I rode through a much poorer section of town where the gypsies lived.  This was much more what I had expected, rather than the gypsy mansions that we had seen previously.  I felt a little uncomfortable and had some boys running after me.  They were probably asking for money, but I didn’t stop to figure it out.  As I came to the small villages on the road, I tried to ride around in them and explore a little.  Given my great sense of direction (sarcasm) I saw much more of these villages than I do when riding with Mike.  As I was riding I noticed that the road was going up.  With my electric motor it wasn’t a problem.  At some points, Mike might have had a problem as his bike doesn’t climb as well as mine does.  I got to village of Rod where I planned to turn around.  On the map it was really small. I got lost!  I got lost many times on the same roads in this small village.  It was perched high on the mountain (foothills) and I ended up on some small dirt roads that my bike couldn’t handle.  I did get a bit uncomfortable not being able to find my way out of the village.   Eventually I found the main road back to the campsite.  Since I came in on the same road you might think I would recognize it, but I didn’t.  Part of the problem was that the “main” road didn’t look much different than the back roads.  Riding back, I found out just how high I had climbed.  For the first few kilometres I used more brakes than I did pedals.  By the time I got home I had ridden 32 kilometres on my own.  All in all, it was a nice quiet day with an interesting bike ride in the afternoon.

Large houses, small road into campground
Small colt in training

Visiting in some of the homes is like going back in time.  Mike says that he recognizes the wood stoves and the smoke houses from his childhood.  Many families here in Transylvania, still own their traditional attire and wear it for special events and festivals.  It would be lovely to be around for something like that, that wasn’t geared towards tourists.  Here is a picture of me cycling past a horse drawn cart with a colt in training.

So far, we have met one gentleman whose two sons work in the UK, one woman whose mother works in Italy, one man and his wife who live in Romania and work in Germany.  Apparently, the wages are much higher in these other countries and even after living expenses they can bring quite a bit home.

Very few of the campers stay in one place as long as Mike and I do.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that they aren’t retired yet and even with Europe’s great vacation policies they still need to get back to work eventually.  The other reason is one that I hadn’t thought through before.  If you have a car pulling a caravan then you have the same luxury that we do, the ability to create a base that you come back to each day.  If you only have a camper and drive around in it, then it doesn’t make sense to backtrack to return to your previous campground at the end of a day.  When driving a camper or motorome you often just keep going in one direction, possibly stopping for a couple of nights near a specific attraction.  Of course, I prefer having a home base to come back to, but it is a compromise.  The first time Mike and I ever rented a motorhome we were in New Zealand.  We fell in love with being able to stop anywhere we wanted in the middle of the day.  Mike could rest or fall asleep in a comfortable chair, I could make a coffee and read for an hour and then we could continue on.  It was lovely.  That is something that we have to give up when we drive around in a car and leave our motorhome in a campground nearby.

Mike is pleased that I am almost “churched” out.  A church has to be a highlighted attraction for us to go inside at the moment.  Mum, I had stuffed mushrooms for lunch in Brasov.  They were very nice but yours are better.  Brasov is a walled city.  The medieval walls and towers are in much better shape than in most cities.  Along the walls around cities and fortresses you will see towers built for defense.   We have learned that often an individual tower was the responsibility for a specific guild or union.  For people who think that unions have too much power in today’s society, they should read about the power the guilds wielded in the past.  A guild would often be responsible for funding and building a tower and manning it.  In different places we have seen baker’s towers, weavers, archers, tailors, blacksmiths, gunsmiths etc.

Lovely setting for dinner

I have to tell you about our recent moment(s) of panic.  Mike and I had been told about a lovely road that took you through really steep gorges in the mountains.  Google maps quickly laid a route out for us.  When we tried to match it on our GPS in the car, it wouldn’t choose the same roads.  We ignored the GPS and headed out anyway.  The road changed from asphalt to gravel and then to just dirt.  We had had a lot of rain earlier in the day.  The road got very steep and the ruts got bigger and bigger until they were the deepest ruts I have ever seen.  The Lincoln is a fairly low car and we were bottoming out when we drove in the ruts.  Instead of vertical walls beside us we had vertical drops down the sides and some very steep uphill climbs.   We were very concerned about not making it up some of the slippery steep hills, but we couldn’t turn around or go backwards at that point.  My biggest fear was that we were going to tear out the bottom of the car.  I was really worried.  Our car had to have major modifications to allow it to be towed on four wheels behind the RV.  It isn’t something that we could replicate in Europe, never mind worrying about the cost of a new car.  Also, in the middle of the mountains we probably didn’t have much of an internet signal and no way to get help if anything happened.  I remembered a retired couple in the US who followed their GPS into the mountains and got stuck.  The woman was found two weeks later, her husband died.  We had half an hour of sheer panic.  We did make it out of the area and swore that if the GPS wouldn’t send us on a road we weren’t going to ignore it in future.  My stomach didn’t feel normal for quite a while after that.   The actual road that goes through the gorge is a forest road.  Constantin has recommended that we take our electric bikes on it and not the car.  The forest road isn’t asphalt but looks relatively smooth and nothing like the huge, I mean HUGE, ruts that we managed to drive through.  Hopefully we learned our lesson without much more than a car completely covered in mud. Mike says that I have to tell you that getting the car cleaned by someone else at a car wash cost us less than $4.00.

We haven’t done much biking in this location for two reasons.  Rain has been predicted for the last couple of days which put us off and many of the roads are too busy for us to bike on alongside aggressive Romanian drivers.  The weather over the next few days looks good. Tomorrow we hope to bike to Castle Dracula.  More on that later.

Update:

Since I didn’t get this posted before Mike and I left on our bikes this morning I thought that I would add an update.   We rode to see Castle Bran that is known as Dracula’s Castle.  The whole town has got behind the Dracula / Vampire history.  It just proves what public relations can do.  The truth is that this specific castle has nothing whatsoever to do with the invention of the character Dracula.  It is said that Bram Stoker took the name Dracula from the son of Vlad Dracul.  Dracul translates to dragon or devil.  The son was Vlad III or Vlad the Impaler.  He was known to be ruthless and considered extremely bloodthirsty.  Castle Bran is still in good shape and the rumour was that Dracula’s castle in the book was based on it.  While Dracula, the story, did take place in Transylvania, Bram Stoker had no knowledge of Castle Bran.  The town has made a fortune by taking credit as the birthplace of Dracula.  There are kiosks and stores everywhere selling anything to do with Dracula and Vampires.  There are a large number of inns and villas and even an overpriced campground called “Vampire Camping”.  The castle is a huge tourist attraction.  It just goes to show what a good PR campaign can do.

I was concerned that the castle would “take credit” for Dracula when I knew that it wasn’t true.  I was pleased to see that they didn’t.  They did have a couple of small rooms with information about Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stokes and the Dracula story but they didn’t claim any credit.  The castle was really interesting in that it is probably the first one we have seen that look livable with many comfortable rooms.  This may be because it was actually being lived in when the Communists came to power.  The castle was originally built around 1378.  In the late 1800s it was owned by the nearby city of Brasov.  In 1920 it was donated to Queen Marie of Romania in recognition of her substantial efforts to unite the disparate parts of Romania into one great nation.  Queen Marie left the castle to her daughter.  Princess Ileana and her family were forcibly removed by the Communist authorities in 1948 and banished from the country.  In 1956 the castle became a museum of medieval history and art and opened to visitors.  In 2006 the castle was restituted by the Romanian state to the children of Princess Ileana.  We had heard that many of the buildings and homes taken over by the Communists were returned to their original owners at no cost.

The next two days are predicted to be sunny.  Mike and I plan to do some bike riding including the correct road into the gorge and not the awful one we previously ended up on.

Castle Bran

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